Following are the winners of the 2019 Herald Journalism Essay Contest organized by Herald Edu in May. -- Ed.
Are Chinese policies keeping North Korean defectors trapped in China?
By Nam Je-hyeon
High School Attached to College of Education, Chung-Ang University
According to the Ministry of Unification, the number of North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea since the death of Kim Jong Il fell from 2,706 in 2011 to just 1,502 in 2012 and has remained low ever since. What could have led to this dramatic decline? It has been suggested that an improving economy under Kim Jong Un may have caused fewer people to risk their lives trying to escape the country, but NGOs such as Liberty in North Korea claim that this alone cannot explain the drop in defector numbers.
This is where China’s role may be being overlooked. Defectors typically cross the border into China, travel to a third country such as Mongolia or Thailand, then travel to safety in South Korea. However, although China signed the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it classifies arrested North Koreans as economic migrants and repatriates them to North Korea where they can face torture, imprisonment or execution.
According to Andrei Lankov, an authority on North Korean issues, the Chinese authorities have erected fences and watchtowers and are more actively patrolling the border region, looking for newly-arrived defectors. However, while the exact number is unknown, Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2016, 92 defectors had been arrested in China, with 46 of those being repatriated to North Korea. Given the number of defectors believed to cross the border each year, this small number of arrests and repatriations also cannot fully explain the decrease in arrivals in South Korea.
An important factor in decreasing defector arrivals is the increasing difficulty and expense of hiring a broker to help them move through China to third countries. Chinese policies requiring official ID to purchase transport tickets and increased security checks have made broker activities more expensive and dangerous. NGOs like Durihana Mission in Seoul have said that many brokers have been arrested, causing a shortage, and thus increasing the cost of hiring one skyrocket to 10-15 million won. Hiring a broker is therefore financially out of reach for the majority of North Koreans, even if they make it to China.
What does this all mean? If the improving economy in North Korea and the small number of defectors who are arrested in China and repatriated to North Korea can’t account for the fall in arrivals in South Korea, it seems likely that a large number of North Koreans still enter China each year, but find themselves stuck once they cross the border.
The increased activities of Chinese security forces and the lack of brokers make it difficult and dangerous to travel within China, especially outside of the Korean-Chinese border provinces. Without a safe and affordable way to transit China, many defectors are forced to live secretly near the border. With few legal rights, and under constant fear of being arrested and repatriated, they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Even if they marry Chinese citizens and start families, their children can’t be registered with the government, which restricts their access to services such as healthcare and education.
The irony is that policies enacted to reduce the number of defectors in China may be actually increasing the number by keeping them trapped. Once in China, defectors are unable to return to North Korea, unable to register with the government or receive refugee status, and unable to travel onwards towards South Korea. Even if China does not want to grant refugee status to North Korean defectors, allowing them to pass through its territory would not only honor its international obligations, but would also allow China to serve its own interests by reducing the number of defectors living illegally within the country.
By Yu Yeun Hee
Ehwa Girls' Foreign Language High School
The world’s attention is concentrated on North Korea, since Kim Jong Un has began holding meetings with South Korea and America. This is a significant change because just a few months ago, people feared the start of nuclear war as North Korea and America basically threatened each other. However, South Korea hasn’t been active enough towards this affair. I believe that this is a crisis that Korea must solve by actively taking its lead on this issue.
In 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework which declared that if North Korea stopped developing nuclear weapons, the US would provide them with sanctions relief and various aid. However, this negotiation ended in failure, as did the Six Party Talks, which were negotiations between North and South Korea, the US, China, Japan, and Russia. Both negotiations started with a goal of denuclearization, but ultimately ended in disaster as North Korea tested its nuclear weapons, making it clear that they possessed nuclear missiles. In 2016 and 2017, the situation got worse as North Korea continued to test their nuclear weapons. This period saw both Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un threatening each other with “fire and fury”. This was a frightening period as it seemed that a war was highly possible.
In 2018, the situation improved as South Korea took the lead. The Panmunjon Summit was quite successful as Kim Jong Un stated that he wanted to escape the devastating sanctions. Later, the Singapore summit and the Hanoi summit were held between the US and North Korea, unfortunately with no tangible results. While North Korea wanted all the sanctions to be removed and at the same time retain their nuclear weapons, the US wanted North Korea to get rid of the nuclear weapons first. It seems to me that South Korea should be playing a more active role.
What can South Korea do to solve this dilemma in a peaceful way? I believe that we need to contribute by holding more summits with Kim Jong Un. The first step is to have meetings where only president Mun and Kim Jong Un meet, focusing on trying to convince North Korea to give up their weapons. The reason why Kim Jong Un is afraid of losing his weapons is because all his power, comes directly from the nuclear bombs, that enable him to destroy the world. We should assure him that he will not lose his power. Our government should provide him power and aid until North Korea can sustain their economy. The next step is to have multilateral meetings with other countries. If South Korea is able to convince Kim Jong Un of his safety, a multilateral peace deal will work.
Choices have consequences. If we choose to solve this problem in a peaceful way, we should be willing to make sacrifices, even if that means supporting a tyrant like Kim Jong Un. Not everybody will like the idea of Kim Jong Un retaining power. However, not every solution is perfect. If we don’t commit to peace now, we will have to face war with North Korea, a country with more than twenty nuclear bombs. The question is not which solution is pleasant, but which solution will make a better world. I strongly believe that peace is the answer to that question.
On which side of the planet are you born?
By Kim Se-young
Hanyoung Foreign Language High School
Life is a lottery. We all live on the same planet. We all have one life. Yet, what kind of life we live is a different story, depending upon where we are born. On one side of the planet, you get to cherish various resources ranging from education to health care services, as your parents as well as your government are wealthy. Yet, on the opposite side of the planet, you live your daily life, struggling to make ends meet and work out ways to find something that is edible. This extreme disparity is visibly present, placing “the right to happiness” only on to one side of a scale. Such injustice of unbalanced chances and opportunities must be resolved through consideration and collaboration of global efforts. The privileged ones must not waste its power on extravagance and arrogance, but rather use it to create a positive butterfly effect that ignites a stream of hope to the needy. Specifically, I wish to accentuate on the importance of the development of appropriate technology and better accessibility to education for all.
First and foremost, the 1st World must actively invest in developing human-faced appropriate technologies that focus on elevating poor people’s quality of life. To illustrate, Soccket is a soccer ball that functions as a portable generator that converts kinetic energy to electrical energy that children can use at home. With a lamp installed inside of the ball, it can be easily taken out to assist a child in studying late at night. Even thirty minutes of rolling and passing the ball stores enough energy to run an LED lamp for three hours. In developing countries, 1.5 million people die every year because they use kerosene lamp for light, which produces smoke that have the same effect as smoking 4 packs of cigarettes a day. Yet, with Soccket, it will not only prevent innocent deaths, but also guide children to have a hope of light in education. Hence, developed societies should prompt an ethical, humanitarian tech movement that spreads warmth all around the world.
Another field of assistance that must be given is education. Majority of underdeveloped nations suffer from children not having stable access to education, either because of cost or location problems. They must be resolved through various education systems, such as School Feeding Program that is currently initiated by the World Food Program. This scheme gives both free education and meals to children under the condition that they take regular classes daily. Consequently, children are prevented from spending innocent childhood working in hazardous environments. Not only that, another program named Education on Wheels can greatly benefit poor nations via spreading education even to the smallest villages and streets. Buses that are re-created into schools are equipped with books, tables, and chalkboards, which visit children to provide regular education in areas without education facilities. As these illustrations show, the industrialized nations must further take actions in education to provide a future for the needy children.
Life is neither a game for the rich nor a tragedy for the poor. Life is an invaluable gift for everyone. Yet, four billion people, accounting for 77 percent of the world’s population, are drowning in the swamp of famine, unable to lift themselves out of the vicious cycle. Their “right to happiness,” an unalienable right is not secured, simply because they have chosen the wrong birth lottery ticket. This unjust game of life must come to an end. To secure the value of all lives, the privileged ones must constantly strive to support universal happiness for mankind by getting themselves involved. All in all, just like what Franklin Roosevelt had asserted, “Great power involves great responsibility.”
Kim Jong Un’s Dubious Image Makeover
By Lee Leonard
Seoul International School
Rapprochement is in the air. At least, it was until February 29th, 2019, when the US and North Korea failed to reach that historic agreement in Hanoi. Nevertheless, the past year has seen a dramatic shift in tone between the two countries: for Trump, Kim Jong Un is no longer the object of “fire and fury”, but “my friend Kim.” Meanwhile, South Korea has seen its own bizarre kind of rapprochement unfold.
Since last year’s inter-Korean summit, the South Korean media and public have been quick to humanize Kim Jong Un, disseminating and consuming depictions of the leader tinged with endearment, even admiration. Evident in everything from playful memes to beauty mask packaging, this overnight image makeover is problematic because it encourages amnesia about Kim Jong Un’s domestic human rights abuses, and blinds us to the threat that he continues to represent to the international community.
In November of 2018, for example, Kim Jong Un became a paper doll assembly kit in the hands of South Korean broadcaster EBS. The poster for this children’s product shows an adorably ruddy Kim Jong Un giving a benignant wave. A one-line description of him reads, “The World’s Youngest Leader”, a curious designation for a despot widely thought to have ordered the elimination of his own uncle to tighten his grip over an inherited autocracy. That autocracy, according to Human Rights Watch, “routinely uses arbitrary arrest ... torture in custody, and executions to maintain fear and control over the population.” EBS’s choice of role models is misleading, indeed.
Equally disturbing is the product’s casting of Kim as one of five “leaders opening an era of peace on the Korean peninsula.” Anyone with a modicum hindsight will remember from the recent past a very different Kim, flouting the global consensus on nuclear non-proliferation with continued nuclear testing, accompanied by threats to “sink Japan” and reduce the US to “ashes and darkness.” Has Kim’s cornered-rat belligerence really been transformed into an open-arms embrace of peace? Or are South Koreans indulging themselves in too much wishful thinking?
Amidst growing controversy, EBS discontinued the product and issued an official apology. Many, however, still feel that the South Korean public should allow itself a softer, less critical, perception of Kim for the sake of moving forth relations with the North. Some have even urged that Kim, “the dialogue partner”, be seen as distinct from Kim, the dictator. But as Sun Tzu’s maxim, oft-repeated in Korea, goes, a hundred battles can only be won when you know yourself and the enemy. Now, more than ever, as the two Koreas enter long overdue talks, South Koreans should be informed by a full picture of Kim, not a made over image.